Authors meet their fans at book signing

November 30, 1999|By MARIE GILBERT

BOONSBORO ? George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane are partners in crime.

They know where the body is buried, what weapon was used and whodunit ? but they're not talking.

They want you to buy the book.

Pelecanos and Lehane are crime novelists. They write about the underbelly of America ? the part of society that's seamy, tragic and dangerous.

And they do it well.

Masters of noir crime fiction, the two men have authored more than 20 books between them, including Lehane's "Mystic River," an award-winning epic that found new life in a star-studded film adaptation; and Pelecanos' "The Big Blowdown," which was named International Crime Novel of the Year in 1996.

Their books are gritty stories of urban realities ? usually not very pretty, almost always tinged with violence.

But their stories have found a fan base that has kept those novels consistently on the best seller's list.

Some of those fans had an opportunity to meet and talk with the two writers Saturday during a book signing at Turn the Page Bookstore Cafe in Boonsboro.


Pelecanos was signing his latest hardcover, "The Night Gardener," while his good friend Lehane was promoting his short story collection, "Coronado."

"It's something I really enjoy ? meeting the people who read my books," Pelecanos said. "Book tours can be grueling, being on a plane every day and having to jump through a lot of hoops because of airport security. But when I get to my destination, it's worth it. I like getting feedback. And my fans will definitely tell me what they think."

Pelecanos knew, at an early age, that he liked to tell stories.

"But I never thought of a writing career," he said. "I've always loved movies and thought I wanted to be a film director, so that's what I majored in at the University of Maryland."

But during his senior year, he took a crime fiction course that forever changed his life.

"It was like a light bulb went on over my head," Pelecanos said. "I realized this was something I wanted to do."

A native of the Washington, D.C. area, where he still lives, Pelecanos said it was not the crime aspect that attracted him to this genre of fiction, but the people he would be writing about.

"I recognized these people," he said. "They were working-class people largely ignored by populace literature. And I thought their lives were worth examining."

Pelecanos said he began gathering his book material from his own life experiences. He was employed as a line cook, dishwasher, bartender, shoe salesman and construction worker before his first novel, "A Firing Offense," was published in 1992.

"I worked two jobs," he said. "I went to work during the day and then came home and wrote."

While Pelecanos said his books can be gruesome and violent, he believes it calls attention to the social issues that exist in the world.

"I think it's a form of reporting," he said. "And sometimes, what I uncover can make me depressed. That's why I write ? because of the anger and passion. I get ideas from what makes me angry."

Like Pelecanos, Lehane knew at a young age that he liked the written word.

"But it was never a viable career option in the Boston neighborhood I came from," he said.

Lehane said he dropped out of college twice and worked a lot of jobs before he could wrap himself around the notion that he could write a book.

"I've always had questions, almost an obsession, about violence," he said. "Violence is not OK ? it doesn't come out of a vacuum. It's an outgrowth of social injustice. So I wanted to write about it. I guess that's why I was drawn to crime fiction or urban novels."

With several acclaimed novels under his belt, Lehane caught the attention of the literary community in 2001 with "Mystic River," a story set on the streets of blue-collar Boston. The book later became a movie, and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Such success can be hard to accept, Lehane said.

"In some strange way, you can never prepare for it. It can overwhelm you. You go through a transition period," he said. "You have to clamp down on yourself because it can make you dizzy. With 'Mystic River,' I had this popular book, and then I was at the Academy Awards and it never stopped."

Despite his success, Lehane believes he still is the person he was before his name became a familiar one.

"What success has done is given me the freedom to write what I want to write," he said. "I don't have to question my instincts and priorities. I like to say that all I owe the audience is a great book."

Lehane enjoys the book tours, even when problems arise, "like five different drivers getting lost, getting on the wrong ferry, having reservations screwed up, a whole comedy of errors."

"But when you finally get to meet the people who read your work, it's the best," he said. "I love it when people come up to me with a crumbling paperback and ask if I'll sign it. Of course, I will. I couldn't afford a hardcover until I was 31."

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